Real Money, Real Experts

Poised for growth: What’s next for AFCPE in 2022?

December 07, 2021 AFCPE® Season 1 Episode 41
Real Money, Real Experts
Poised for growth: What’s next for AFCPE in 2022?
Show Notes Transcript

Today on Real Money, Real Experts, co-hosts Rebecca Wiggins and Dr. Mary Bell Carlson chat with Rachael DeLeon, AFCPE’s Senior Director of Member Services and Communications and soon-to-be Interim Executive Director.

 
As Rebecca prepares to take the next step in her career, we pause to reflect back on the incredible impact she’s had on AFCPE over the past 16 years, while learning more about Rachael’s involvement and vision for the future. AFCPE is poised for an exciting future with new partnerships, new technology, and new opportunities for our members and AFCs. If you want a sneak peek into what’s in store for 2022, this episode is a must-listen!




Show Notes:
00:52 Rachael’s Introduction
01:26 Rachael’s Road to AFCPE®
06:29 The Magic of the AFCPE® Symposium
10:43 AFCPE® Through Rebecca’s Leadership
17:09 The Future of AFCPE®
22:22 Rachael’s Two Cents for the Future of AFCPE
 
Show Note links:
Wells Fargo Foundation Project: https://www.canportal.org/afcpecovid19
Barb O’Neill podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/vc/podcast/real-money-real-experts/id1514660485
AFCPE® Archives Project: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qSSiiPj4FwNo63lJX_AfpvnHDrQPOVU1/view?usp=sharing
Archives project volunteer form: https://forms.gle/Za9dC9Njsj62o8RX8

Intro:

Welcome to Real Money, Real Experts, a podcast where leading financial counseling and coaching experts share their stories, their challenges, and their advice for helping people manage money in the real world. I'm your host, Rebecca Wiggins, Executive Director of the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education® or AFCPE®. And I'm your cohost, Dr. Mary Bell Carlson. I'm an Accredited Financial Counselor®, or AFC®, and the CEO of Chief Financial Mom. Every episode, we're taking a deep dive into the topics that the personal finance professionals care about: helping clients, building community and your professional growth. Welcome everyone to the Real Money, Real Experts podcast.

Rebecca Wiggins:

I'm Rebecca.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

This is Mary. Thanks for taking the time to join us today.

Rebecca Wiggins:

Today, we have a really special episode for you. We're talking with Rachael DeLeon our Senior Director of Member Services and Communications. Rachael has been with the organization for over seven years and has been very instrumental in the growth of our membership. In January, as I stepped down from AFCPE, Rachael will be stepping in as Interim Director. And so we wanted to have her on today to talk more about the transition, our new strategic plan and all of the exciting things ahead for the organization. Welcome to the podcast Rachael.

Rachael DeLeon:

Thank you, Rebecca, for that warm introduction and Mary, it's great to be here with you.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

So, Rachael, I can't believe it's been seven years since you've been with this organization. Time has just flown. I still remember when you came in at the beginning, tell us, many of us know you and then AFCPE realm, but tell us about your story before you came to AFCPE. What's your background?

Rachael DeLeon:

I actually joined AFCPE in April of 2014. So I'm coming up on eight years, this spring. And Mary, I feel like you time flies when you're having fun. I grew up in Ohio, I'm an Ohio native and I went to school at DePauw University at that is DePauw with a W in Indiana. We're a small liberal arts school. We did not have the amazing basketball team that everybody talks about at the time, but I chose that university or their management fellows program, which is an honors business program that combines entrepreneurship and business with a liberal arts education. And I also ran track and cross country in college where I met my husband, who is also a runner. Outside of college, I did not have the linear career path that so many of my family have. I come from a background of teachers , farmers, my dad was a veterinarian. And so growing up, I always thought, you know, career trajectory was , was really linear. And going into the business world, for those who are in that sector, it doesn't always look like that. I began my career in sales and marketing, for first a publishing company. And then I worked for an eating disorder treatment center. And then prior to coming to AFCPE, I actually worked in fashion merchandising for eight years. And I like to say, or not like to say, that at the time I was really good at encouraging people to make really impulsive financial decisions. And today I'm really proud to work for an organization that aligns more with my values and to support professionals that help people avoid those kinds of decisions.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

Well, I do have one impending question. You still get a lot of mileage in every week. Don't you ? How many miles do you run a week?

Rachael DeLeon:

I wish I could say it was more Mary. Right now I probably only run 10 or 15 miles a week, which , back in the day I would have been so sad about. Prior to having kids I ran marathons. At the beginning of COVID. I was running 60 miles a week for mental health. But my kids keep me pretty busy. So I'm a little more balanced nowadays. My husband, I kind of alluded to this, he's an entrepreneur and he started a running shoe and apparel store when he was 23. I'm very proud of, you know , his trajectory. I also appreciate a good stable job , and entrepreneurial is tough, but he keeps us on, he keeps me on my toes and connected with that community, regardless of how many miles I put in.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

Well, and the nice part is he probably also keeps a new pair of shoes on you fairly often because you're going through a lot of shoes with that many miles. And we may find that you're running quite a bit more now that you're taking on this new Interim Director position.

Rachael DeLeon:

Yes, I do. The busier I get, the more I tend to find that exercise balances me out.

Rebecca Wiggins:

I still think 10 to 15 miles a week is nothing to scoff at.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

Amen

Rachael DeLeon:

Thanks Rebecca. I like to walk my dog to.o

Rebecca Wiggins:

Rachael tell us a l ittle bit more about, you know, I mentioned at the beginning, how much you've helped us grow, not just from a membership perspective, but really from brand awareness. And I know one of the things we talked about way back in the day when we were talking about really interviewing you for the role was your experience with the website part of what you were doing at Abercrombie and that user experience. And you brought a lot of that knowledge to AFCPE. So tell us just a little bit, I guess, maybe about your favorite memories over the years or what you've seen as we've continued to grow and how you've brought some of that into the work we do at AFCPE and where we are today.

Rachael DeLeon:

Rebecca, I feel like when you brought me on, you know, we had our certification, we had our finance, I think at the time we didn't really even have anyone over membership, but the idea was to have someone who could take the brand and move it forward in terms of connecting departments internally, communicating what we're doing more effectively externally. And I'm really proud of just the look and feel of where we've gone. You know, I think we've always been a really inclusive community. A family of sorts, you know. From day one, my very first symposium, I think most of my fondest memories are probably from those symposiums. But even from day one, I could feel that, but just as the year has gone by, I feel like we're doing a much better job of bringing people in and bringing them along and making them feel welcome. We just came off, I guess this'll be my eighth or ninth symposium. I should be keeping track of that. But just this morning I was reading all of the feedback from the professionals that had attended. And I think that's what fills me up the most is to know the value of what they've learned, not only from an educational standpoint, but also the relationships they've built and how that helps move them forward in their careers.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

Rachael, tell us a little bit more about this year's symposium. What are some of the highlights for you from specifically this year? This is the second year we've done a virtual symposium and kind of share with those that maybe attended and maybe those that didn't, what were some of the highlights?

Rachael DeLeon:

I think a virtual symposium is a beast all in itself. And I, you know, I think it's really important to shout out Sara Martin-Fuller. She's our Event Manager and she is incredibly creative and does a really good job of marrying, you know , those fun events, keeping it light, but also just down to the little details. If anybody's ever attended an AFCPE event, no detail goes unturned. One of the things we did differently this year that I think people really loved, you know, after our first virtual experience last year was having more time for networking. So we still had more than 50 hours of professional development content. But in addition to that, we doubled the amount of networking topic chats that we provided. And that's something we learned throughout the pandemic and that we've implemented into membership throughout the year. It's just giving people more of these really authentic ways to connect with one another. You know, sometimes I think you certainly learn a lot from the research that's going on in the field, but even just sharing those commonalities across constituencies, I think is really important.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

And if I remember correctly, this is one of our largest conferences ever to host , is that correct?

Rachael DeLeon:

It was, we had over 1200 attendees. I have to say in the beginning of 2020, when everyone had to pivot into a virtual environment, you know, to lose that face-to-face interaction, felt really sad and it still does. I'm excited for next year. But the one thing it did allow us to do is really expand our community. It broke down barriers that people had that, you know, maybe they didn't have the funds to travel or the time to do that. And it allowed a lot of flexibility, which has really grown our community and made it a lot stronger.

Rebecca Wiggins:

And the one thing too, that was really remarkable, I thought this year and last year, that took me a little bit by surprise, you know, because our event is later in the year, there were some other conferences I attended in 2020 in particular. And so I was pretty worried going into our symposium about how engaged our professionals would be. You know, it's easy to sort of do work and have the session on, in the background. And I was amazed both that year and this year, how, and it just reminded me, I guess it's not so much a surprise when you think about who were the professionals that we're talking about, but how engaged our professionals were across that platform. And many people actually said, and this is really to Rachael's point of expanding the networking opportunities that they felt that it actually allowed them to reach out in a way that they might not in person to network with folks. So that was really exciting too. Just seeing the passion come through the platform was I think really inspiring for the whole team.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

This was one of the best conferences I've ever attended and I've been going for over 20 years now. And so I just want to take my hat off to you and the team. I know how difficult it is also to be in a virtual environment, but I also think there's opportunities, right? So every time there's an obstacle, if we're focusing on those opportunities and I really feel that AFCPE has done an incredible job of highlighting and really capturing opportunities and overcoming those obstacles, even though we miss the in-person hugs and we hope to return to that one day, I think that we're taking a lot with us now. We're learning things that hopefully we can also implement in future conferences.

Rachael DeLeon:

Yeah. And I'll say Mary , one of the things our small, but mighty team does well, and also what our community does well, I think is pivot and we're agile in times of crisis, and we really learn that, you know, in the pandemic, when, you know , everything's shut down, we had, we were really fortunate to have a good partner, Wells Fargo Foundation that provided funding to do free financial counseling outreach, which is still continuing to this day. And I was blown away by how many people who are also going through, you know, their own crises with family, with health, with, with jobs that raised their hand and volunteered to give back. And I think that speaks such volumes to the community and the type of people that AFCPE attracts.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

Well, speaking of a transition time, I also want to maybe talk to Rebecca a little bit right now and find out Rebecca, you have been such an integral part of this community for the last 16 years. I just can't imagine. I don't remember what life was like, by the way, before Rebecca came. So I want to know what are you most proud of? What are you excited about of that you've accomplished in these last 16 years?

Rebecca Wiggins:

Well, thanks Mary. It is amazing to, you know, I think when you make a decision as big as this, it's, it's been a lot of self-reflection over the last couple of weeks and just really trying to sort of synthesize the years into those, those memories and the things that stick out. You know, one of the things that I think is really striking to me is the people who helped me get here. So I think immediately back to people like Barry Wilkinson and Sharon Cabeen, you know, even like Sharon Burns and Gordon Genovese, I wouldn't be here without any of those people who mentored me, you know, gave me the opportunities, saw something in me, maybe even before I believed I could do it in many cases. And so I look back at those years and think in some ways it's like, it seems like a lifetime ago and sometimes it's like a blank, you know? So I think that's one of the things I'm most proud of is through the years, the relationships that we've built. And as Rachael said, I think that's just kind of underscores everything we do is , is trying to create a place of belonging for all people, that our team feels that way that everyone's feels seen and heard because I was given that opportunity early on. And so I wanted to reflect those mentors along the way. And so I'm proud of that. I'm really proud of in 2018, we started the endowment fund, the Strategic Impact Fund at AFCPE. And that was with the express purpose of essentially reinvesting some of our assets and years where we had surplus back into doing really important things that aligned with our mission. And so the last couple of years we've been able to provide scholarship funds focused on underserved populations and really focused on capacity building, particularly in community-based organizations that really are passionate about the work, but maybe need to level up in terms of certification and professionalization. And so those are some of the things that I'm really proud of. And I just think overall that like, as Rachael said, the team, which is really the hardest thing to say goodbye to is the people right? Like it's the professionals that you've built relationships with and it's the team, because for me, I have put so many hours in with these folks. Sometimes you spend more time with the people you work with than your own family. And so they really do feel like family to me and best friends. And so I just, I'm proud of the relationships, I think overall with both of the professionals and the staff and that we focused a lot on inclusion and belonging as an organization, as a team and that everything that we try to do with our partnerships is focused on those values.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

You know, Rebecca, one of the things that I think has been so instrumental in AFCPE is the people. And you've just highlighted that for me. Is it's not just the people that we see every year at the symposium, but it's those long-term relationships that we build over time. And it's really more than relationships. It's friendships well beyond just professional acquaintances. And so one of the things that I wanted to bring up today is something that we're working on within the last year. And that is this financial counseling archives project. You just mentioned some key people that helped create this, this organization. And, you know, we've been around now for over 30 plus years. And a lot of our friends that we have known are getting older and some, a good friend of mine just this summer, Bruce Brinson passed away after a battle with cancer. And so those are the things that I feel like we can't get back and I want to keep those memories and I want to keep them alive. And so that's been something that we have started. We'll put some links in the show notes about this project and what you can do to become involved with the project. But I think it really is, AFCPE is about people first and foremost, everything else is secondary to that. And so thank you for being such a strong leader and we so appreciate, and we will greatly miss you, but wish you well in your future endeavors. And as you launch a new opportunity for you in your life as well.

Rebecca Wiggins:

Thanks, Mary. You know, one of the things I want to say, I'm excited that you brought forward the idea for the archives project, because it really does illustrate the depth of our organization as well. I mean, I think back to our interview on the podcast with Barbara O'Neill and, you know, just thinking about the rich history that we have with our professionals that have stayed with us through the years, I think that's a mark of, what's so unique about this organization. I don't know too many membership organizations right now that are thriving, number one, in general. And number two, have that longevity of professionals that stay connected , sometimes even after they're retired, you know? And so I just, I think that's something that really just speaks volumes to who AFCPE is, and that it is beyond one person it's really a collective power that this organization has. And so I am really excited about where the organization is headed. I think Rachael 's an amazing leader. The team is really well-equipped , we're hiring new folks on the team starting in December and January. And, you know, that was something that was really exciting to me too, was we did the strategic plan in June with the board and the staff. We had done some really deep diversity equity and inclusion work as a board and a staff this year. And there just was sort of this moment after the strategic planning where I was almost sort of like, not out of body, but you're sort of like able to sort of see this full picture of, they don't really need this one individual anymore. The team is so strong. The board has this great vision. And a lot of the strategy that we had already planned on doing has been realized. And as a leader, I think that's one of the best things you can get to is to see this is not, you know, it's time for me to step back because the organization is so strong, it's really equipped now for new leadership, new vision, and you don't ever want to be the one that's like holding something back either. So, I think that's the most exciting part of it. And I'm excited for the archives project to be able to start documenting some of this history and be able to, you know, see where things go in the next few years with this incredible team.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

Well, Rachael, please tell us what is ahead. Tell us about the strategic plan, the 30th anniversary of the AFC, what's in our future.

Rachael DeLeon:

Yeah, I mean the archives project is coming at a perfect time. 2022 marks, the 30th anniversary of the AFC and the following year will be the 40th anniversary of AFCPE. We've been around. Sometimes I feel like we're in our infancy of growth where there's so much momentum and excitement, but we've really been established for quite a bit of time. Thanks to a lot of really great members who are still active today. Looking forward, Rebecca mentioned we're hiring five new staff members, which is incredibly exciting. We have two starting in the next couple of weeks and three at the beginning of the year and that's across all departments. And so I'm very excited about being able to take the initiatives that we talked about in our strategic plan and really have the infrastructure to move these things forward. We're developing a diversity equity and inclusion course. It's in the process right now. It'll launch mid to late next year, and that's thanks to funding from JPMorgan Chase. We're continuing our Certification and Capacity Building Scholarships. When this podcast is live, we will have just announced this year's recipients, which we're super excited about the strong group of professionals that are coming through. And on the membership front or starting some things building on that, networking the idea of affinity groups . So, you know, one of the things that makes AFCPE so strong is our diversity across different constituencies, but we're also creating spaces within our really diverse membership for people that have like-minded backgrounds, or interests to really, you know , delve into those and support one another. In 2021, we hosted our first virtual job fair, and we're going to be doing that again next year with a little bit of a twist in the early part of the year, it's going to be an experience fair, a volunteer fair, that will help more AFC candidates find viable ways to earn their hours to get certified. So those are just a few of the things we have on the horizon.

Rebecca Wiggins:

The only other thing I would say that's new and you'll be hearing more about as well is the Independent Trainer Pathway for folks who want to be able to deliver AFC education to groups . So it might be an internal person that already provides training to an organization and they can basically become certified as an AFC independent trainer to be able to provide that education coursework. And then all of those people would be eligible to sit for the exam. So it again, builds capacity and helps reduce those barriers to entry . And we did roll that out in 2021. So you'll be hearing more about that in the coming years, really months and years. But , if you're interested in that you can find more information on our website about that as well.

Rachael DeLeon:

Yeah, the AFC certification was reaccredited just this past year. And one of the things that we're really proud of as we continue to grow that certification is just the variety of pathways that people can choose to get AFC certified. So we like to say, we meet you where you are, and we really stand behind those words. So we're growing our university programs and the independent trainer program really, you know, down the road, opens up doors to have trainers on site for larger organizations or nonprofits. So that way they can save costs on education, but still ensure that their people have the knowledge and the experience to really impact the lives of the people they serve.

Rebecca Wiggins:

The other thing that's coming down the pipe is there is going to be a that's serving kind of an offshoot of the original COVID program that we'll be serving veterans and that's in partnership with the VA and AMBA and collaborating with NFCC. And so we'll also be announcing more about that for folks who may want to provide free financial counseling to veterans in need. So there's a lot of really exciting new partnership things starting to happen. The other thing Rachael's been leading with her team is new technology. So we're looking at, and we are transitioning right now into a new learning management system. So again, you know , that's one of the things I think that Rachael and the team does really well is always thinking about the user experience and how we can make sure that our programs, particularly in the essentials programs that we're offering, but some of the other things as well, our AFC study guide and other programs that we'll be offering will be able to be through this new, more interactive learning management system. So there's actually quite a bit on the horizon and a lot happened this year, but there's, there's some really exciting things to look forward to as well.

Rachael DeLeon:

Yeah, Rebecca, I don't, I think I was remiss not to mention that the new LMS transition we're deep in the heart of, of the behind the scenes work to move things over. But next year we are going to be redesigning our Money Management Essentials course. And it's such a good tool as a stair step into the AFC program, or just an opportunity for organizations like non-profit, community-based organizations, or banks or credit unions to really build capacity. And we're moving to a new system so that way we can have more responsive learning, better reporting. And we're really excited about some of those changes that are coming.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

We typically do our 2 cents at the end of each podcast. But for you, we'd like to hear what is the one thing you'd like to focus on during your time as interim director?

Rachael DeLeon:

When I think about where we are now and where we're going, Rebecca has left quite a legacy, but I think we're well poised for the future. My focus I think, is , is going to be carrying on what we laid out as a board and a staff and a community this year. You know, to build capacity within the field, to continue to build partnerships that can create impact both for our professionals, but also for the clients that they serve. And to continue to focus on accessibility for all people to have access, not only to our professionals, but for different types of professionals to have access to the resources that we provide. If I had one message to give to our listeners today, it would be to get involved. We are a warm and inviting community. So, you know, become a member, reach out to us, ask us about certification, attend a webinar. I think if you just take a step into our community, you'll find your people.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

That was beautiful. Thank you so much, Rachael, for joining us today. We're so glad to have you. We're excited for this new year and what the new future brings. So thank you for taking the time to spend with us today. And we look forward to 2022 and all it has to hold.

Rachael DeLeon:

Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Rebecca.

Rebecca Wiggins:

Thanks Rachael.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

Well, Rebecca, I have to admit, this was just a pleasure to get the chance to talk with you and Rachael together. I really want to emphasize how much we have appreciated your leadership over these 16 years. We wish you the best, but we are going to miss you terribly. I'm really excited to get to know Rachael a little bit better. And I think a lot of the membership look forward to that too. Getting to know her and what the experience and just energy and kindness that she brings to the organization. She's such a good fit for this interim role . And the nice part is, is just what she said earlier. There's no crisis or big thing that we're overcoming. We've got great plans. You've left us in a great space where we can continue to carry this legacy and the traditions, not just that you started, but this was started 40 years ago, right? There are so many people that have been so instrumental in creating this association and that it wasn't just started by them because it wasn't just one person. And it isn't about one person. It's about an entire community of people and we are that right. And so everyone that's listening to this podcast right now, everyone, that's a part of the association. Anyone that wants to be connected, you are a part of this legacy and it's bigger than just any one person, but it's all of us together. And so while we miss those that have passed on or others that have left the organization, I love that the ball is still rolling forward and getting bigger and bigger. And the connections and relationships are still deep and great. And we'll continue to grow over time.

Rebecca Wiggins:

Yeah, there's such a strong foundation and rich history in this organization. And as you said, it really is so true. It's not about one person, one person's agenda, one per- you know, it's really this, this group team family feel. And I think that's what I'm going to miss most about the organization, you know, certainly are the people and the relationships and the meaningful partnerships that we've built through the years. But as I said, you know, one of the things that was really cool for me was to have that experience of sort of seeing how much we've grown and seeing the team in this way, that I could envision myself not being part of it and watching them flourish in a way that was really exciting. And so, you know, it's, it's change is hard and it's bittersweet to, to step away from something that you love so much. Cause I really do love this organization. I love the people, I love the mission, but I also think it's important to know when it's time to step away and let someone else, you know, step into leadership and see where the organization can go. And I just have to say, I mean, I've worked with a lot of people over the years. I think this team is incredible and it's, they're not just talented people. They are individually, each one of these people that's on the team and the people that were , that are going to be coming on the team are all very talented and really impressive in what they do and what they've brought to the organization. I could spend a podcast episode on each staff member, I'm sure. But you know, it's beyond that for me, they're really people who, who understand that we are in service to the professionals of this organization, as you said, that's really the heart of it. And that's such an honor. And so we don't take that lightly. And then also just the , the, the personal integrity and the kindness, you know, you said that about Rachael, it's so true. She brings this warmth generosity of spirit. And I think, you know, each one of our staff members while they're talented in their own right, and certainly experts in the areas that they bring to the, to the team. And we're so fortunate to have that talent they're even better people. And I think that's, what's just so great. It's been a true honor for me to serve the organization in this capacity. I have learned so much from all of you and the people that have really supported me through the way the people who are , who have challenged me and, you know, put some barriers in , in, in the road, so to speak. That's been, you know, those have all been really great learning opportunities and I won't go far cause I do love the organization, but it is just an incredible honor to be able to see how strong the organization is. Not only financially, but just from that relationship standpoint and how great leaders, you know, what the , the , the great leadership that we have on the team, not just with Rachael, but with Michelle as well as another Senior Director. And she's been with the organization for several years now, and each one of our staff members, you know, everybody does , it plays such an integral role. So, and the board as well, you know, everybody is very committed to this organization. And I think it's exciting. It's just going to be really exciting to see what's, to come. And, and how, you know, as Rachael said, we're sort of on this cusp, I feel like we always talk about that. We keep growing and, and really, I see some really exciting and big things happening in the future. So it'll be exciting to see all that happen.

Dr. Mary Bell Carlson:

If you enjoyed the show today, please give us a rating and review and be sure to share it with a friend. Real Money Real Experts is available wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you want to continue the conversation, consider joining the AFCPE Membership community. As an AFCPE Member, you gain access to resources, networking opportunities, and professional development that supports your work and your career. Learn more at our website, AFCPE.org.